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<   No. 1467   2007-02-01   >

Comic #1467

1 {scene: The dim Hall of Dworin in the ancient subterranean Dwarven kingdom of Dwergenberg, now overrun by orcs}
1 Alvissa: So what was this hall actually used for, Dwalin?
2 Dwalin: Weddin's, parties, anythin'! Ye cuid fit the entire poopulation o' Dwergenberg in here! {translation: Weddings, parties, anything! You could fit the entire population of Dwergenberg in here!}
3 Alvissa: Why are these columns so thick, and numerous? Surely you don't need that much support for a roof of solid rock?
4 Dwalin: Ye've ne'er seen a hoondred thoosand dwarves on a dance floor, ha' ye? {translation: You've never seen a hundred thousand dwarves on a dance floor, have you?}

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The Making of Strip #1467!

This strip required 5 photos. The three used in panels 1 and 2 are shown here, reduced in size, but otherwise exactly as they came out of my camera. As you can see, the white balance is completely wrong and the contrast is a bit low. And for panel 2, I've taken photos of the Hall of Dworin and the characters separately, because the set is built at a much smaller scale than the miniatures, so that I can give the impression of huge size.

The characters are photographed on my desk, on a sheet of white paper to make removing the background easier.

I'll go through a step-by-step process of how I made panel 2. Some of this will be technical Photoshop details, but I think you should get the general idea even if you've never touched an image processing program in your life.

The first thing was to remove the background of the characters. I did this by converting the image to a layer, then using the magic wand selection tool to select the background white paper. I tidied up the selection with the lasso tool and then deleted everything except the characters, leaving the background transparent.

The remaining steps involve the Hall of Dworin photo, and you can see them in the eight frames of the next illustration.

  1. I cropped the photo to remove the horizon at the edge of the Lego baseplate, applied an auto-levels colour correction and contrast enhancement, and used a smart sharpening filter at a low level to make the details a little more crisp and defined.
  2. I reduced the transparent image of the characters to an appropriate size and pasted them in.
  3. I added a "soft light" layer, which grades from pale blue centred at Kyros' orb to black at a point just beyond the bottom of Alvissa's baseplate. The "soft light" effect in Photoshop adds some of this colour to the image, darkening most of it, but adding a faint blue glow around the characters.
  4. Next comes a "hard light" layer, graduated from blue to black in the same way, but this time clipped to a small circle around Kyros' orb. This only changes the image in the small area around the orb, adding the glowing effect.
  5. This is a levels adjustment layer. I modify the image histogram by pushing the black level up from 0 to 128 (out of 256), which basically makes the entire image "half as bright".
  6. I add a layer mask to the levels adjustment. The mask fades the levels adjustment in the area around the characters, so that the darkening effect of the adjustment doesn't apply to them, and the effect falls off smoothly, leaving a "pool of light" around them.
  7. This is a hue/saturation/lightness adjustment layer. I reduce the saturation by about 90% to make the image look almost black and white, and decrease the lightness by 63% to make it even darker.
  8. Finally, I add a layer mask to that adjustment, again to restrict it to the darkness around the characters, and leave them in a pool of light and colour, while the rest of the Hall of Dworin is rendered dark, gloomy, and almost monochrome.
The adjustments to the other panels were basically the same, except for the pasting in of the characters. The other panels also needed the background painted black, to represent the depths of the dark Hall, rather than the white wall behind my desk. You can see this change in the upper left corner of panel 1, behind Alvissa's head. When Kyros is out of shot, I increase the size of the image and paint a reference orb in where it should be, and centre all the layer adjustments around that point, then crop the image back down to the original photo size.
2016-10-01 Rerun commentary: Shooting this would be easier in a black room. But as I've discovered at my work, where we have a completely black painted room for doing precision optics experiments, using a completely black room for anything else other than precision optics experiments is awful.

The room we have is large enough to work as a photographic studio as well, if we want to take photos of people or mannequins or whatever, for experiments. The trouble is lighting the darn thing. Since the walls and ceiling and floor are all black, they absorb (almost) all the light that hits them, resulting in no ambient light at all. When you turn the lights on, everything that is lit up looks harsh and glary, and everything else is pitch black. Even with the room lights on, most things are still so dark that it's actually hard to see and you can easily bump into things when walking around.

Needless to say, this makes it difficult to adequately light the room for portraiture photography. We need to hang cloth backdrops everywhere, that are some colour other than black.

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